For total cost of ownership, low noise, capacity, low latency and support for 5G wireless innovations, fiber-optic cable’s advantages place it ahead of other choices, according to Gary Bolton, president and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. FBA is a membership organization dedicated to all-fiber-optic broadband. Bolton spoke with AGL eDigest on June 9 about fiber’s funding, its advantages and its future.
About infrastructure options that make the most economical sense in the short and long terms, that futureproof the network the most effectively and that ultimately could close the digital divide for good, Bolton said it comes down to doing the right thing — deploying fiber.
When it comes to extending fiber to the home in rural areas, Bolton said, the association has among its members rural utilities that are moving into the market to address their communities that have been left behind for internet connectivity.
“A utility operator looks at things in 50-year and 100-year horizons,” Bolton said. “If you look at any kind of total cost of ownership, for example, on a 10-year basis, fiber wins against any other technology. That’s because people typically look at, first-cost, and they say, ‘Oh, fiber’s little more expensive.’ Then they look at the maintenance costs. For example, coaxial cable is 11 times more expensive on an annual basis and maintenance than fiber.”
Speaking of its technical advantage, Bolton said that fiber-to-the-home is a passive optical network. He said that means it has no active electronics — devices that must be powered.
“It ends up being a futureproof technology, meaning that, once you put the glass in the ground, you have limitless capacity,” Bolton said. “Think about how important it is to be able to have a noise free environment, having an optically pure environment that is a closed network. You don’t have to worry about rain, foliage, and electromagnetic interference that affect other technologies. Fiber gives you all the spectrum you want, with no contention. It gives you a noise-free environment. That’s why fiber optics is the gold standard on every dimension.”
The use of fiber leads to increasing the number of available jobs, to economic development and to economic diversity, Bolton said. He said fiber provides the building block for smart grid modernization and for future services such as 5G wireless communications.
“If you don’t have fiber, then you will not have 5G,” Bolton said. “When you relegate someone to something like low-Earth orbit (LEO) satellite, and say, ‘Oh yeah, well, it’s better than nothing,’— No, it’s not better nothing, because if you relegate someone to a LEO satellite, you are relegating them to being on the wrong side of the digital divide forever. LEO satellite isn’t the building block to smart grid modernization, or 5G. You might be able to get a little bit better bandwidth for an interim period. But fiber is the best, short-term and long-term.”
According to Bolton, in the wireless industry, the rule of thumb is, “Get it out of the air and into the ground at the first available spot.” He said that is because consumers want their devices to be untethered, that they want mobility. By way of example, Bolton said that his computer is not connected via an Ethernet cable.
“I’m on a Wi-Fi network,” he said. “At the endpoint, you do have some kind of wireless, but you want to have your fiber as close as possible. That’s the whole thing with 5G — to have tiny cell sites so you have low latency (no delay).”
As internet throughput reaches gigabit speeds, Bolton said, latency becomes king.
“If you don’t have three milliseconds of latency or less, you’re going to get that carsickness feeling, because when you start getting into things like virtual reality, those subtle delays are going to make you nauseated because your brain sees that something’s not right,” he said. “If we’re going to be able to get into these immersive environments, we have to get latency down as to close to zero as possible. Not to mention, driving an autonomous car. I don’t think you want to be going 60 miles an hour and have any kind of latency issues. That might be a little fatal.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to internet connectivity expectations, Bolton said. He said that people have seen that they can perform their jobs remotely, filling, for example, a Silicon Valley job in rural Mississippi, Tennessee, and other low cost-of-living, high quality-of-life rural areas.
“Even more important is health care,” he said. “Telehealth sessions that you can do remotely or even to be able to do remote health monitoring and obtain better patient outcomes when you look at things like dementia, diabetes and congestive heart failure — all these things are going to improve our quality of life as we exit this pandemic.”
This year, the Fiber Broadband Association has the 20th anniversary of its founding. The association will conduct its Fiber Connect 2021 conference and exhibition on July 25–28 at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee. Visit www.fiberbroadband.org.
“This will be the biggest fiber conference in the world, this year,” Bolton said. “We will be celebrating the evolution of fiber-to-the-home over the past 20 years.”
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.